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Is it important to choose a major before starting college? The answer you might not expect

Brianna Flavin By  Brianna Flavin  |  @BriannaFlavin  | 

Choose-a-Major

You've made the important call to earn a college degree and you might even have a pretty solid idea of which institution you'd like to earn it from. Checking those two boxes off the list of choices you face after graduating high school is no small feat! But there's still what some would consider an even more nerve-wracking hurdle ahead — choosing a major.

Should you set your sights on a subject you love? Should you be pursuing a profession with positive job placement rates or a promising salary? Should you be aiming for a certain industry or a precise job title? What happens if you change your mind along the way?  

Thankfully, these are very common questions, and researchers have spent a lot of time trying to determine the right answers. The options surrounding how and when to declare a major are definitely not black and white, but the complexity of choosing a major might feel a little less confusing when you understand what is (and what isn't) at stake.  

The concerns of arriving to college undecided

Many people feel nervous about the undecided major option when enrolling in school. USA Today College points out that schools offer a wide variety of programs, and students who enroll before they declare a major risk needing to transfer if they choose a program that isn't offered at their particular school.  

In a similar vein, choosing a major late in the college experience — or changing majors mid-way — can be costly if you take classes you don't end up needing. It's been reported that around 80 percent of U.S. college students end up changing their major at least once throughout their college tenure. Some argue that students who change majors face some of the same difficulties as students who arrive undeclared: the risk of wasted time and money and the risk of possibly needing to transfer to a different school for a desired program.  

But in some cases, the effects of declaring a major you don't follow through with can actually be more detrimental than beginning your college career undecided. If you choose a particular major and begin taking courses in that program, you could end up further behind than the undecided major who started with general, universally applicable courses. In that instance, remaining undeclared is actually an advantage. Read on to explore some additional potential benefits!  

The benefits of arriving to college undecided

There are risks to starting your college journey without knowing your final destination. But research has also highlighted some surprising benefits to waiting a bit before officially declaring your major.  

Some advocate for students to delay a major declaration until their second year of college. Citing the large percentage of students changing majors at least once throughout their college experience as evidence, these advocates assert that many incoming freshmen don't have enough information to make this important life decision. While these young adults may be in tune to the type of work environment they'd prefer or the subjects in which they excel, a majority of high school graduates simply haven't garnered enough life experience to forecast their vocational futures before they've even entered college.  

Taking general courses, like public speaking or economics, gives you the chance to explore subjects beyond those you were exposed to in high school. Maybe you arrived at college knowing you were strong in the sciences, but you'd never been exposed to computer science specifically. Perhaps you thought you'd be a psychology major on your first day, but you fell in love with social work as the year progressed and you learned more about each field.  

Some colleges even offer entire programs designed for undecided students. For example, The College of St. Scholastica proudly offers a deciding/exploring major track in which students receive individualized assistance in determining the right path for them. They are even given the opportunity to connect with working professionals on the job to gain firsthand knowledge of a particular career path.  

Spending that first year living under a different roof, meeting new people and exploring your options can offer some much-needed perspective and reflection.  

The decision is yours  

While slight concerns may still linger for some, the tides are shifting in favor of the benefits yielded from entering college undecided. If you're the type who's had a firm grip on your career dreams for years now, there's no harm in declaring your major right out of the gate. But if you're teetering between a few different options, beginning college undeclared could make all the difference in your college experience and the chance that your diploma will spell out the field you truly feel passionate about by the time you graduate.  

It can be helpful to view your first year in college as an opportunity to start your education while genuinely reflecting on your goals and interests — you might wind up loving a field you never would have considered in high school!

But you don't have to wait until you arrive on campus to let your career dreams percolate. If you're curious about where to start when it comes to declaring your field of study, there are plenty of ways to start exploring the wide world of majors now! To see what majors might work best with your personality, check out our infographic, "How to choose a major: Using your superpowers for good." 

Brianna Flavin


Brianna is a higher education content creator who writes on behalf of The College of St. Scholastica. She earned her MFA in poetry in 2014 and looks for any opportunity to write, teach or talk about the power of effective communication.

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